Starting next month, I’m taking a class titled “Gothic Fiction: Examples from Three Centuries.” The course is one of several perks I get for mentoring student teachers, and while I appreciate the stipend, I really like the courses. It will meet monthly during March, April and May, and I’ll post many of my writings here. This first writing is a response put to me by my instructors:
“What’s meant by the term ‘gothic’?”
I can’t think of anything I know less about than “gothic.” I know a little about a lot, and a lot about a little, but Ted don’t know diddley about gothic. What I do know are stereotypes. Dark, mascara-wearing, trenchcoat bedecked kids with moody attitudes. Obsessed with death and the dark side of things. Lots of notebook art — the kind that sort of scares you when you run into it, like a vampire perched over a grave crying with a machine gun in one hand and a box of Girl Scout cookies in the other. I’d call the counselors fast.
Vampires? There’s another thing I don’t know much about. My knowledge of vampires is limited to Count Chocula and Count von Count from Sesame Street. I saw The Lost Boys in the 80s, along with everyone else who would like to pretend they didn’t help bankroll the two Coreys. I’m vaguely aware that Dracula is based on someone named Vlad the Impaler, who I gather was a pretty disturbed and disturbing dude.
Does gothic have anything to do with vampires? I don’t know for certain, but I’m on a roll. Let’s continue. How many vampire books can I name? Let’s count:
- Dracula. One vampire book.
- Interview With the Vampire. Two vampire books.
- Twilight. Three vampire books.
Not that I’ve read any of these, mind you. I’ve heard of them. I hear that Anne Rice has written a few books other than Interview with the Vampire, and know from experience that her fans are disturbingly obsessive about them and have very strong opinions about the film. They’ll probably be descending on me within minutes after I post this.
And then there’s Twilight.
How I, a high school English teacher who professes to be at least vaguely in tune with the reading interests of his students, has managed to avoid reading this book, I don’t know. That’s not to say that I don’t know something about it. I know there’s a character named Bella in it. What she does, I don’t know. But I do know that I was able to provoke some heated discussion among a group of students by asking them to comment on her. I got her name from my wife, who read all three books in the series.
I’m not sure she’s an impartial judge of the series, either. One night we were sitting in bed reading. She was reading the final book in the series. I was probably reading Volume 2 of The Last Lion for the tenth time. All of a sudden she busts out laughing.
“What’s the matter?” I ask.
She keeps laughing, finally garnering enough breath to say, “It’s just so ridiculous…”
So this did not inspire me to pick up the books.
What else do I know about gothic things? There’s gothic architecture, which of course makes me think of the talking gargoyles in Hunchback of Notre Dame. That’s not really fair to have gothic architecture, though. I’ve been in a few cathedrals. I know what a flying buttress is.
Have I missed any stereotypes? Is there anyone out there I haven’t offended? If so, I’m really sorry. I just don’t know enough about what it means to be gothic to finish the job.
I don’t mean to be rude. I don’t really bear any ill will against anything Gothic. Cathedrals are cool. So are books. I just don’t know much of anything about what “gothic” means except a bunch of half-baked observations which, I suspect, are all of the worst stereotypes about “gothic.”
But that, I suppose, was at least part of the purpose of this prompt.
So there you have it. Now that we’ve exposed my ignorance, let the learning begin.
Next prompt in this series: “What is a ghost?”
Update (6/1/10): “Brock Drennan” clued me into this video. Thanks!